Children’s literature and the fantasy genre owe a huge debt to Lewis Carroll.
Over the years, countless adaptations, retellings, and works loosely inspired by Carroll's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass have delighted readers. After all, getting lost in a fantastical world populated by strange creatures who recite nonsense poetry, and attending a whimsical tea party (among other escapades) makes for a rather memorable adventure.
So, if you’re looking for a rabbit hole or a magic mirror to find your way back to Wonderland, these surreal and quirky fantasy novels have you covered.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January
If you always checked the wardrobes for Narnia as a child, then Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January is your gateway to not one but several magical universes.
In this tale, the young January Schaller finds a strange book that tells her all about hidden doors, other worlds, and the truth about her family. Soon enough, she sets off on her own journey of self-exploration.
Highly imaginative and written in luscious, evocative prose, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a story-within-a-story that offers a spellbinding escape from dreary reality.
Dimension of Miracles
If you like your stories with a healthy dose of the absurd, Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley is definitely worth your time. A satirical sci-fi novel that was published in 1968, it tells the story of one Tom Carmody, who wins the Galactic Lottery due to a computer error.
Tom is still allowed to collect the prize, but unfortunately, he can’t find his way back to earth. Lost in space and surrounded by aliens, Carmody has a series of misadventures.
Somewhat similar to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Dimension of Miracles is an underrated classic.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
For those who’ve been bewitched by Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, Catherynne M. Valente’s “Fairyland” series is a must-read.
In the first book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, a 12-year-old girl called September is visited by the Green Wind, who takes her to the great sea on the edge of Fairyland.
September meets a lot of strange characters including a gnome, some witches, a wyvern, and Gleam, an 112-year-old paper lantern, as she builds a ship to circumnavigate Fairyland.
Although intended for children, Valente’s writing is entertaining and thoughtful, and the tale can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The book was initially a crowdfunded project before Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan Publishers) picked it up for publication.
The Kaleidoscope Sisters
Riley is weeks from her seventh birthday, and dying from a heart defect. Her elder sister, 15-year-old Quinn, is determined to save her. Quinn discovers a portal to a hidden realm populated by people who have all disappeared from earth, and even finds a way to harvest a new heart for Riley. But of course everything has a catch, and Quinn must make an impossible decision.
A thrilling and experimental tale of adventure, sisterhood, and sacrifice, The Kaleidoscope Sisters is sure to delight readers.
In 2016, she published Heartless, a standalone novel inspired by Alice in Wonderland that tells the story of the infamous Queen of Hearts.
Intricately crafted, Heartless is a magical tale filled with magic, passion, and a lot of cake. If you’re throwing a tea party for your imaginary friends, bring along this lovely book.
Between Two Thorns
Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman is a wonderful blend of court intrigue and urban fantasy, with a cast of memorable characters.
Cathy is the rebellious protagonist, trying to escape the shackles of her abusive family, who’d rather marry her off. Will is the guy she’s supposed to marry, and then there’s Max, an Arbiter who is tasked with tracking down the mysterious Master of Ceremonies.
If you love portal fantasies, stories featuring the Fae, and Regency-era romances, be sure to check this title out.
The Magician's Nephew
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis is the first book in his much-loved Narnia series, although it isn’t talked about as much the other novels.
Children Polly and Diggory are given magic rings by their Uncle Andrew which enable them to travel to other realms. They reach “the Wood between the Worlds," a forest filled with ever-growing trees and hundreds and hundreds of pools—each a doorway to a different universe.
Often considered a prequel to The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew tells the enchanting story of Narnia’s creation and how the evil White Witch found her way there.
The Starless Sea
After the stupendous success of The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern surpassed herself with The Starless Sea.
An ambitious tale about a fantastical place that is the origin of all stories, this novel reads like a puzzle to be solved. Filled with folktales, stories-within-stories, evocative snippets, and even a literary-themed masquerade that leads the main character to a secret society, The Starless Sea is an unforgettable read.
Fans of Alice in Wonderland are sure to be delighted and intrigued by Neil Gaiman’s dark and wondrous imagination. Neverwhere is the companion novelization of the television mini-series that Gaiman and Lenny Henry co-created together, and the book went on to enjoy greater success than the show.
When Richard Mayhew rescues an injured girl called Door, he has no idea that it will literally turn his life upside down. He loses his job, his fiancée doesn’t recognize him, and he is seemingly invisible. And in search of Door, he has to enter the strange world of “London Below”…
Scarlett and Tella have long awaited their invitations to Caraval, a week-long performance that happens only once a year and where the audience participates in the show. But when Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind, Scarlett must find her before it is too late, and take part in the game of tricks and shadows.
A young-adult romance novel with The Night Circus vibes, Caraval is a mesmerizing tale of magic, illusions, and true love in a world of lies.
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